Family Of Asbestos Death School Teacher Make Last Attempt To Uncover Evidence

Appeal Launched For Information

25.01.2012

The heartbroken family of a former West Midlands school teacher, who died of an aggressive asbestos-related cancer, are making a last ditch public appeal for help in their battle for justice, which currently hangs in the balance because vital evidence may have been destroyed by arsonists.

The Victorian-built classrooms of the old Kings Hill Primary School in Darlaston, which were burnt to the ground by arsonists back in 1991, could have held vital clues to explain how Margaret Worthington was exposed to the asbestos which cruelly led to her untimely death in February 2009.

An industrial illness expert at Irwin Mitchell solicitors, who for the past three years has been investigating the case, now admits that they are running out of time and without urgent help from former staff and pupils, who may hold key information, the  legal proceedings which Margaret commenced prior to her death will be unsuccessful.

Margaret, who was a well known figure in the Darlaston community, having taught generations of local schoolchildren, had worked at Kings Hill Primary School for almost 20 years. It is believed that asbestos which was once widely used as an insulation material may have been disturbed and released into the air when major building work took place at the school around 1975.

Kim Barrett, a workplace illness solicitor from the Birmingham office of Irwin Mitchell explained: “Margaret bore the news that she had mesothelioma, an aggressive and incurable cancer, with great courage and even though she was very ill, she devoted the rest of her life to raising awareness about this killer disease.

“It will be devastating if we are not able to successfully conclude this case and give Mrs Worthington’s family the answers they deserve.

“Over the past three years I have trawled through old council records and newspaper archives which revealed some tantalising information. After arson destroyed the school there were problems redeveloping the plot because the land was ‘contaminated.’ A disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that asbestos was definitely present in the school.”

Margaret died on 2 February 2009 and an inquest held by Black Country Coroner, Robin Balmain, at Walsall Manor Hospital on 14 May that year confirmed that 71 year old Mrs Worthington had mesothelioma and concluded that she had died as a result of an industrial disease.

Kim Barrett continued: “Whilst we have so many pieces of the jigsaw, there is one crucial missing piece of evidence which we need if we are to bring legal proceedings against Margaret’s former employers, Walsall Education Authority.

“We need independent eyewitnesses to corroborate Margaret’s own recollections of the building work that went on at Kings Hill School around 1975.

“If anyone who worked at the school at that time or was even a pupil there in the mid 1970s and has memories of this, we urgently need to hear from them as we only have a short time left before, under English Law, the case is judged to be out of time.”

Margaret Worthington, who had worked all her life as a teacher in the Wolverhampton and Walsall area, had been married to Tony for 45 years and had three grown up children and two grandchildren.

Recalling the moment when his wife first realised something was wrong, Tony Worthington said: “Margaret was a keen member of a local ramblers’ walking group and one day she returned home looking very tired. She admitted that she’d been breathless on the walk and, unusually for her, hadn’t been able to keep up with the rest of the walkers.”

Tests for a chest infection and pneumonia proved negative before finally, in June 2006, Margaret was given the devastating news that she had cancer.  Initially doctors diagnosed that Margaret, a lifelong non-smoker, had lung cancer.

She underwent chemotherapy and initially it seemed as though her tumour was shrinking to a size where surgeons could operate. On 2 November 2006 she was admitted to Heartlands Hospital but, once in theatre, surgeons made the terrible discovery that the tumour was too near her heart, making it inoperable. Further biopsy samples confirmed that Margaret was in fact suffering from the most aggressive type of asbestos related cancer – mesothelioma.

Despite the devastating diagnosis, Margaret was determined to live the rest of her life to the full. Tony added: “She had set her sights on a cruise onboard the QE2 which we had booked for her 70 birthday and, as was typical of Margaret, when she was determined to do something, she succeeded.

“She campaigned to raise awareness about the killer disease which many people still know very little about and in February 2008 as part of Action Mesothelioma Day, she released white doves at St Phillips Cathedral, Birmingham in memory of those who had already lost their lives to the illness as well as in tribute to people who, like her, were still battling it.

“She was realistic about her long term prognosis and the hardest thing for her to bear was the thought that she wouldn’t be around to see her grandchildren grow up.

“Towards the end she didn’t have the strength to pick up and carry her youngest granddaughter Amber who was then only two years old and it broke her heart that she couldn’t do little things like this that she once took for granted.”

If anyone had occasion to be in Kings Hill School around the mid 1970s whether they were a pupil, teacher, building contractor or visitor, and recalls the building work taking place there and/or was aware of the use of asbestos during these renovations, they should urgently get in touch with Kim Barrett at Irwin Mitchell Solicitors on 0370 1500 100 or email kim.barrett@irwinmitchell.com

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, our expert mesothelioma solicitors could help you claim compensation. See our Asbestos-Related Disease Claims Guide for more information.